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Virgin Records: A desire to challenge conceptions and be risk-takers.
on 8 August 2014
It was in 1973 that Mike Oldfield’s largely instrumental “Tubular Bells” launched Virgin Records, the revolutionary British record label that also kick-started the career of founder Richard Branson, now a famous billionaire. More than 40 years later, it is hard to imagine that for the now classic pop album “Tubular Bells,” there were no takers from the regular record labels. Then Virgin launched it as its inaugural album - and it stayed in the British charts for 279 weeks. By now, some estimated 15 million copies have been sold worldwide. This 3 CD- box “Virgin Records: 40 Years Of Disruptions” looks back on the four decades since Branson and his colleagues launched their rebel record label, which began as a home for rockers of a proggy persuasion. The hit-story of the company is presented in mostly chronological order, going from Mike Oldfield to electro band Chvrches.
“40 Years” focuses on (especially British) songs that stormed the charts. As a result, there’s not much from the ‘70s, years which are only represented by Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” with its opening theme and “God Save The Queen” from the Sex Pistols. So no Tangerine Dream, for example. The ‘80s are epitomized by, among others, million-sellers like T'Pau, The Human League, Phil Collins, Culture Club and Simple Minds, as well as tracks from groundbreaking records by Giorgio Moroder, Inner City, Neneh Cherry and Soul II Soul. For the ‘90s, the same goes for Massive Attack, Enigma, Daft Punk and Air, showing how Virgin oversaw the birth of new, electronic dance genres.
The mega-success of girl group Spice Girls gets noted too, by including their 1996 debut single “Wannabe.” It hit number one in more than 30 countries and made a global phenomenon of the Spice Girls, who also paved the way for the commercial breakthrough of teen pop in the late 1990s. On the basis of absolute sales figures it is safe to say that the hits of the 21st century (including those by Emili Sandé, David Guetta and The Kooks) are somewhat overrepresented on this collection and also usually somewhat less memorable than the older classics (although of course only time will tell).
On the bonus third CD, artists of today cover six hits from mainly the ‘80s. They are Bastille with a cover of “(I Just) Died In Your Arms” (Cutting Crew, 1986); KT Tunstall with “Sledgehammer” (Peter Gabriel, 1986); Corinne Bailey Rae with “Jealous Guy” (Roxy Music, 1983 but this was itself a cover of the John Lennon classic of 1971); The Kooks with “Teardrop” (Massive Attack, 1998); Ella Eyre with “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off” (Jermaine Stewart, 1986) and Josh Record with “Only You” (Yazoo, 1982). Sadly, these covers can’t hold a candle to the originals, with the exception of Ella Eyre, who does a magnificent take on “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off” with her Sia-like vocals.
Virgin Records’ 40th anniversary box set spans two discs, with 19 tracks on disk one, 21 tracks on disk two, plus the above-mentioned six-track bonus disc, making for a total of 46 tracks and nearly three hours of music. Now, one would think that each of the 40 years would be represented by a particular (hit)song of that year. Instead, on the first two CD’s you’ll only find the biggest hits, which creates an imbalance in the selection. Of course, song selections for collections are always highly debatable, with personal preferences leading to vastly different track-lists. Music that speaks to some, simply doesn't to others. Anyway, there’s enough here to get a good impression of how influential Virgin Records has been in the past 40 years while always having a desire to challenge conceptions and be risk-takers - which at the same time, makes for a stunning collection of hits by an amazing range of artists.